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Distribution Channel Deconstructed: How to Analyze Guest Clicks for More Bookings

We all want to know where our customers are coming from — that is, in terms of the channel that brings them to the point where they make a purchase. The problem for those making the analysis is that the last webpage that a customer visits before booking is not necessarily the one that is the real distribution channel, in the sense of being the decision point. This is true whether the supposed source is a search engine, a social media site, or even the hotel’s own webpage.

Fortunately, Google analytics and similar sites allow an analysis of the user’s click stream, that is, the sequence of webpages that a person visits on the way to booking a hotel. That alone still may not tell the whole story. For one thing, you may see a strange effect where guests are clicking from site to site and then suddenly drop off. They might indeed have left because they did not find what they were looking for, but it is also possible that they logged off the computer and picked up the telephone. So far, every study from the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research has found that the telephone is still a major channel for reservations, both for hotels and restaurants. At the same time, it’s clear that those telephone customers are using the web to collect information and comparison shop.

Thus, you may not really know your guests’ thought processes, although the click stream does give a strong indication. A particular hotel may see a guest click through a variety of sites, including the search engine, an OTA, a review site, and the hotel’s own site before booking. Many click streams show repetitive visits to the same site. Perhaps the guest is mulling the decision or checking back repeatedly for a better rate; it’s hard to tell, but there is at least one way to hone in on the answer to this question.

Additional clues can be gleaned from comments posted on social media sites. These form a large pool of data (unfortunately, not structured in any way). One conclusion that may be possible from an analysis of the social media commentaries is to see which website has a true effect on a guest’s behavior. A common goal of such analysis is to find ways to bring guests to the hotel’s own website, rather than have bookings go through intermediaries.

In a recent Cornell roundtable held in India, Kelly McGuire, executive director, hospitality and travel global practice, SAS Institute, offered a way to structure and analyze social media. A major piece of this effort is text analysis, which begins with scanning web comments and then organizing that material according to topic. With that information in hand, one can engage in text mining, to uncover related concepts that are occurring in numerous conversations. This text mining can, among other things, allow operators to understand guest behavior and perhaps even predict how they will react to various promotions or branding initiatives. The text analysis also makes it possible to manage a brand’s reputation. This roundtable, “Connecting Customer Value to Social Media Strategies: Focus on India,” can be downloaded at no charge from the Center for Hospitality Research (

The other wild card in this deck is the growing use of mobile apps. Again, it appears that these are heavily used in gathering information about where to eat or stay, often on short notice. However, the way guests are using Google places, Yelp check-in, or TripAdvisor’s mobile app is
rapidly changing.

There is no substitute for running an analysis of your guests’ click streams, their social media postings, and their use of mobile apps. All of these channels will give you a chance to be that much closer to your guest. Just remember to hold on to the phone, because that’s still a major channel, too.

Glenn Withiam,

Director of Publications,
Cornell Center for Hospitality Research

What was your first job?
Picking green beans at the Cornell Agricultural Experiment Station

Who inspires you?
Anyone who has persevered in the face of adversity

What are your hobbies?
Bicycle riding and running

What technology excites you?
We live in an age of miraclesthat we can electronically communicate, look up information, and so forth in a heartbeat. Medical advances are also quite impressive of late.

Words of Wisdom:
Whether you’re speaking of publishing or hospitality the answeris the same, don’t let technology get in the way of being a mensch.

What is one other field that you would like to try?
Professional chef

Who would you invite to lunch?
Mark Twain & Theodore Roosevelt

Top movie/book:
Some Like It Hot

Favorite vacation spot:
New York Adirondacks, but I love the Grand Canyon, Crater lake, Acadia, and the Oregon Coast.

Glenn Withiam is the director of publications for the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research. To download complimentary copies of any of the research reports from the Center for Hospitality Research, visit

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